[When I first posted this on March 16, 2020, some people commented that I was being unnecessarily paranoid. It’s now a month later, and nobody says that now.]
On Saturday, I drove from Las Vegas to my home in Los Angeles. I’m a professional magician, so I work late and get up late. I had eaten breakfast around 1 pm and hit the road around 4 pm. As I drove, though, I realized that I would get hungry during my drive. Still, I didn’t want to stop. Fast-food restaurants might be transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
So as I crossed Primm, which is on the stateline, I popped a Kind Bar.
I drove through the desert. There were very few cars on the road. About an hour later, I approached Baker, where I usually stop for a meal at The Mad Greek. I was a little hungry.
“Maybe Baker residents aren’t exposed to the virus yet,” I thought. “Maybe they don’t fly internationally. After all, they’re pretty isolated.”
Then I thought about all the drivers who stop in Baker. Lots of international travelers stop here–Chinese, Italians, South Koreans.
“Naw,” I thought, and drove on.
I kept driving through the desert, and gradually, it got dark. I listened to my music–John Mayer, Dinah Washington, Roger Miller. An hour later, when I arrived in Barstow, I was really hungry. So I pulled over to the side of the road and looked up on the Internet whether you could catch COVID-19 from eating food.
A CDC spokesperson said that “currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
Two Rutgers University food scientists said that “scientists will never say anything is at zero risk, but I’m not worried at all about getting the coronavirus from food. Hypothetically, yes, perhaps your piece of meat could have the virus on it. But your stomach acids will kill it. Plus the coronavirus is not equipped to get through your intestine’s walls, which is how foodborne diseases make you sick.”
Then I thought, “What about fast-food workers touching my paper bag or food wrapping paper?” And the article continued:
“There’s no scientific data that’s related to that. It’s believed that the virus can survive on cardboard for 24 hours; steel or wood for maybe three days. The mantra in food science is: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. And cook your food.”
So I sat there in a Barstow parking lot thinking that there’s virtually no risk of contracting COVID through my food except if an infected food worker touches their face or washes up incorrectly. The key, it seemed, was to choose a good fast-food restaurant.
I started driving down Main Street in Barstow, which happens to be the old Route 66 before the interstate came through. I looked at the restaurants that I passed, one by one, and asked myself if I wanted to trust their workers’ cleanliness.
Taco Bell, no.
China Buffet, definitely no.
Barstow Burger, too local, may not follow responsible guidelines.
Del Taco, no.
IHOP, no. I don’t even like to eat there when there’s no pandemic!
Jack in the Box, no.
Der Weinerschnitzel, no.
Lola’s Kitchen, too local.
Jenny’s Mexican Grill, too local.
What I wanted, see, was a chain that paid attention to hiring smart workers. I wanted a chain that had a good, responsible corporate structure. I wanted a corporation that sent memos to their workers advising them that we’re in a crisis, and that not washing your hands is grounds for firing.
I continued for a couple more miles down Main Street and found nothing. Apparently, Barstow’s main drag is all cheapo joints, nothing decent at all. So I hopped back onto the interstate and started driving towards Los Angeles. Twenty minutes down the road, I stopped in Victorville. There, I found a Mimi’s.
“That’ll do,” I thought.
I walked in and walked up to the to-go counter. I didn’t touch anything. I didn’t shake anybody’s hand. A young brunette woman took my order, and afterwards, I told her how I trusted Mimi’s but didn’t trust about 40 other restaurants that I had passed.
“Yeah, I always carry around this,” she said, and pulled a tiny hand sanitizer from her pocket.
As I waited for my food, I looked around. It was a Saturday night at 8 pm, and yet there were only about five tables with customers, nothing more. Everybody had gotten the word. The people who were at the tables must have all been either unplugged from the media or stupid.
Fifteen minutes later, I hopped into my car with a to-go bag in my hands. I didn’t start the engine. I slathered hand sanitizer all over my hands and rubbed it in for 20 seconds. Then I started eating. It was a brioche burger and it was unbelievably good. My long search for a good meal that wouldn’t kill me was over.